Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 29, Issue 3, pp 293–313

Engineering and evolvability


DOI: 10.1007/s10539-014-9425-3

Cite this article as:
Calcott, B. Biol Philos (2014) 29: 293. doi:10.1007/s10539-014-9425-3


Comparing engineering to evolution typically involves adaptationist thinking, where well-designed artifacts are likened to well-adapted organisms, and the process of evolution is likened to the process of design. A quite different comparison is made when biologists focus on evolvability instead of adaptationism. Here, the idea is that complex integrated systems, whether evolved or engineered, share universal principles that affect the way they change over time. This shift from adaptationism to evolvability is a significant move for, as I argue, we can make sense of these universal principles without making any adaptationism claims. Furthermore, evolvability highlights important aspects of engineering that are ignored in the adaptationist debates. I introduce some novel engineering examples that incorporate these key neglected aspects, and use these examples to challenge some commonly cited contrasts between engineering and evolution, and to highlight some novel resemblances that have gone unnoticed.


Evolvability Adaptationism Teleology Engineering Evolutionary systems biology Evo-devo 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Advanced Modeling, Emergency Medicine DepartmentJohns Hopkins UniversityBaltimoreUSA

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